LAUSD to fully reopen schools in the fall plus offer an online option
Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner on Monday committed to reopening campuses full time on a normal schedule in the fall and said an online option would also be available to families in the nation’s second-largest school district.
L.A. Unified — like all school systems in California — will soon need to abide by state rules that link funding to in-person attendance in the new academic year. Emergency pandemic rules that have allowed districts to operate online expire on June 30.
“Looking down the path to recovery and the new school year, which starts this fall, all students will have the opportunity to participate in full-day, on-campus, in-person instruction,” Beutner said in his regular Monday broadcast.
Middle and high school students would change classes, as in a normal schedule, he added, and after-school programs would be available until 6 p.m. on school days.
Although a full reopening was all but inevitable under state requirements — and the anticipated statewide economic reopening on June 15 — parents expressed relief that the schools chief had officially committed to it.
Families have endured more than a year of campus closures followed by an April reopening under a hybrid schedule that allowed students on campus only part time.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Diana Daniele said upon hearing the update. Her eighth-grader attends Revere Charter Middle School in Pacific Palisades.
Families will have two options, Beutner said Monday: a traditional full-time schedule or a remote option that will be mostly online — alternatives previously laid out in a Board of Education meeting. These two choices for parents also are incorporated statewide into the governor’s proposed budget.
However, some parents remained anxious and about 70 were worried enough to demonstrate Sunday, calling for a full reopening.
Some parents who participated said Monday that they are not yet reassured that the schedule will return to normal, especially given that Beutner plans to step down at the end of June and major issues remain under negotiation with United Teachers Los Angeles.
These issues include safety measures for the fall. Beutner said that he lacked a “crystal ball,” but it was likely that physical-distancing rules would be relaxed while mask wearing would continue.
In fact, it would be logistically impossible to bring students back full time with on-campus schooling if social distancing — and the space between desks — remained at the current six feet, a separation no longer required by health authorities. Who should wear masks and when is not yet clear, but Beutner noted that a majority of those at a school are children — and many of them would remain unvaccinated in the fall.
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Monday also endorsed the full reopening of campuses for the fall — not surprising given that her department had already endorsed a full reopening for this spring.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, we do think schools can all fully reopen in the fall for in-classroom instruction,” Ferrer said.
Elementary campuses are currently operating on a hybrid schedule, with students on campus for half the school day. Middle and high school students also can choose to be on campus half time, but once there, they remain in one classroom where they work online, just as they would have at home. The vast majority of students have remained at home.
For the fall, California school districts have little choice but to provide full-time, on-campus schooling. Otherwise, they will face funding cuts — because much of state funding is based on in-seat, in-person attendance.
These rules were suspended because of the pandemic, but only through the end of June. While these emergency rules could have been — and still could be — extended, that appears unlikely. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for one, has stated he expects schools to be open full time in the fall.
Some of us are hoping that a year of remote work will lead to greater job flexibility. Others can’t wait to get out of the house.
Teachers union President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a broadcast last week the union intends to negotiate intensely for the best interests of educators and families.
“We held the line because we are a fighting union that centers our students and communities in the work we do,” Myart-Cruz said. “Our fight for safety protected tens of thousands of families outside our union.”
The pro-union Reclaim Our Schools coalition is organizing students and parents behind a call to keep pressing on health and safety issues. The ongoing safety concerns of parents are reflected in a spring return rate of only 30% at elementary schools, said Billy Easton, a spokesman for Reclaim Our Schools.
On that front, district officials are insisting that no battle cry is needed: They say they fully intend to follow strict safety protocols.
Beutner said he recognized that some families might not be ready to return or might have health reasons for not doing so: “Some students and some staff members may need to stay at home until all at schools are vaccinated due to health reasons because they live with an immune-compromised family member.”
In an interview Monday, Beutner said he expected the online option to be organized geographically, around designated “communities of schools” — there are more than 40 in the district. The Boyle Heights area, for example, which has 25 schools and 12,000 students, would have an online third grade and an online algebra class.
He said he hoped and expected the numbers choosing an online format would be small.
L.A. Unified continued to press on the vaccination front Monday, with the official launch of its school-based student campaign for middle and high schools. Campuses that reach a 30% vaccination threshold will win $5,000 to spend as they choose, Beutner announced.
Beutner said he’s especially concerned about lagging adult and student vaccine rates in lower-income communities.
In West L.A., for example, with a median income over $100,000, the vaccination rate for those 16 and 17 is 54% and it’s 66% for those 18 and older, according to data released Monday by the school district.
In South Los Angeles/Watts, with a median income of about $40,000, the vaccination rate for those 16 and 17 is 20% and it’s 40% for those 18 and older.
Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.
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